The biggest strike yet under the Tory government was to take place this week. Around 120,000 lecturers were to walk out on Thursday to defend their jobs, pay and pensions.
The action, by UCU union members, hits universities and colleges across Britain and Northern Ireland.
University lecturers have struck already. The level of support they won reflects the bitter anger lots of people feel towards the Tories.
On Tuesday, lecturers took to the picket lines at 47 universities in England against attacks on their pension scheme.
At King’s College London, a huge banner reading “Education massacre—do not cross” hung from the main entrance on the Strand.
Students joined strikers on the picket lines after passing a motion at their AGM to back the strike and Saturday’s TUC demonstration in London.
Annette, an English student, told Socialist Worker, “This is my first picket and a lot of other people haven’t been on a picket line before. The strike is having a big effect. Lots of lessons are cancelled.
“We’re showing that we are organising resistance and that people won’t take the attacks lying down.”
Many pickets and their supporters saw the strike as part of a longer battle.
Jim Wolfreys, president of the UCU at King’s, told Socialist Worker, “The attack on pensions is theft of our money. But it’s also part of a wider attack on education and public services.
“Our strong votes for action show there’s a determination for prolonged action against the cuts. We’ve got to look at co-ordinated action on pensions across the public sector.”
Many pickets said that there should be more strikes, involving other public sector workers, to stop the cuts. Many wore badges advertising Saturday’s TUC protest.
John Yandell, president of the UCU at the Institute of Education (IoE) in central London, told Socialist Worker, “Wherever we can, we should co-ordinate action between different unions.
“Today we are striking over pensions, but any strike that challenges funding for the public sector challenges the government’s view of the public sector as a whole.”
Amy, an admin worker, was picketing at the IoE. Dressed in a gorilla mask, she held a placard reading “Pensions, not peanuts” while handing out peanuts to passers-by.
“I’m striking for the next generation,” she told Socialist Worker. “The planned changes to our pensions would mean future workers receiving a third less than we get now.
“It’s a way of cutting pay through the back door.”
“We’re on strike because we care,” added another striker. “Conditions are constantly deteriorating and it has an effect on students. It’s not necessary.”
When I arrived at the London School of Economics (LSE), two people were filling out forms to join the UCU on the picket line. UCU membership at the IoE has risen by 5 percent in the last two weeks alone.
Des Short was picketing at the LSE. “I think we should go on strike for a week or two,” he told Socialist Worker.
“There’s a lot of support for what we’re doing. Three people have joined the union so far and it’s not even 9am.”
Outside London, lecturers report an upbeat mood on the picket lines. In Leeds around 60 strikers picketed.
“People are getting buoyed up from the picketing,” Malcolm Povey, president of the UCU at Leeds University, told Socialist Worker.
“There’s a good group of students on the picket lines and lots of lectures have been cancelled.”
The strikes in England followed walk-outs by university lecturers in Northern Ireland on Monday, Wales on Friday of last week and Scotland on Thursday of last week.
Brian Kelly, a lecturer at Queen’s University in Belfast, told Socialist Worker, “The bright spot on the pickets was the presence of student supporters from the group Free Education for Everyone.
“They got a motion through the student council calling on students to stay out of classes and went into lectures to ‘call out’ students.”
Lecturers have shown that it is possible to fight nationally against cuts. They are not the only group of workers under attack.
In the public and private sector, workers’ pay and pensions are being squeezed and their jobs are coming under threat. The best way to stop the assault—and to deal a hammer blow to the Tories—would be to unite and strike together.
For reports from the strikes in Scotland and Wales go to www.socialistworker.co.uk//art.php?id=24246